The Reston Triathlon is near and dear to my heart. I did it for the first time in 2007. It was my second olympic triathlon. Earlier that year, I had a panic attack in my first oly and ended up backstroking the entire distance. I was really hoping the 2007 Reston wasn’t going to be the same. Thankfully, it wasn’t. I was so happy to have freestyled the whole swim.
At the finish line that year, Ryan and I celebrated, got some pizza, packed up and were ready to leave when Ryan said, “Uh, I think we need to stay. I think you got third (in your age group).”
“What?! There’s no way.” But, I actually had. Reston was the first time I ever age group placed.
I’d go on to place in my age group every year from then on. This was made easier by the fact that the median age of Reston seems to be a little higher than most other tris. In those first few years I did Reston, my age group wasn’t really abundant.
2011 was different though. I sent Scott, my coach, an email in January with my list of goals and on it read
I want to WIN the Reston Triathlon.
9 months after that email was sent, I wasn’t really super excited about my odds. For the last 1.5 years, my training has all been based around going long. I wasn’t really too confident about my top end speed being enough for a shorter distance race. In fact, a few weeks before Reston two of the women who would be competing had both beaten my bike time at the Luray triathlons and my run time, which is usually, my relative strength, wasn’t really that much better either. I had done an Ironman three weeks before Luray, but I had felt mostly recovered, so I wasn’t really sure that had anything to do with my slower time. It’s likely, I reasoned, that all my endurance training has just kept me from getting faster for the shorter stuff.
I also hadn’t planned on going into Reston following my highest volume week of training ever. The 7 day total ended up being 25 hours of which 16+ was bike time. When Monday rolled around I was tired.
To complicate matters, after 4 solid days of record-setting rain, the swim was cancelled because the lake was too debris-ridden to swim in. Usually, the canceling of a swim isn’t something that concerns me too much, since it’s not my strongest event, but the thought of doing a run/bike/run with the fatigue in my legs didn’t sound pleasant. A duathlon was going to be painful.
As the week progressed, I got more and more excited, though. One of the things I have always liked about the Reston tri is that they organize their waves coed and by swim time. Since I’m not the best swimmer, I always end up in the 3rd or 4th wave. I really like this. Once I get out of the swim, it get to spend all morning passing people on the bike and run. I also have no pressure. Most of the people gunning for podium spots are also good swimmers, so they all go off in the first wave. I’d get to start in a later wave, run my race and maybe, just maybe, get a time that would finish me first. I could be the dark horse sneaking into the win. This was going to be fun.
My mindframe totally changed, though, when I picked up my packet and learned that I went off in wave 1. What the hell? This has to be a mistake. Except, it wasn’t. Apparently, after a few years of doing well at the race, the organizers put you in wave one regardless of your swim time. Holy crap. Instead of being a dark horse, I was now going to have to race wire to wire with a tough group of ladies. This was a first for me, and it had me in a total panic. A track start with a phenomenal group of athletes is not what I had been envisioning leading up to this race. Truthfully, I started to have a little melt down once I found out.
The most troubling thing the circumstances brought to light is that my head has yet to grasp that I have gotten fast in this sport. I noticed this for the first time at Luray this year. I knew I had gotten off the bike as the 4th overall woman during the Luray olympic and the mantra in my head going into the run became, “Don’t blow up and you can get first in your age group.” I don’t know if I was capable of running any faster that day, but I do know that my mental state was one that was encouraging me to not blow up and to just hold onto the age group win, not find something within me to push the pace and to maybe be able to fight for an overall place. I finished that day 4th overall and 1st age group. The next day at the Luray sprint, the story would be identical. I’d got off the bike in 4th overall and finished in 4th overall, 1st age group. In fact, I had been in 3rd and got passed with about .2 miles to go. I just didn’t go with her. I didn’t even pretend to go with her. I just let her pass me. I took it lying down. Again, I’m not sure I had any more that day, but I do know that my dominant thought that day was to not blow up and to get the age group win. It became clear to me that weekend that I had some kind of mental issue with being fast enough or worthy enough of coming away with a top 3 overall spot.
As I prepared for the Reston tri after learning about the wave assignments, I found myself starting to think the same exact way. My goal of winning as the later wave dark horse, quickly turned to envisioning an age group win. I was letting my fear of going head to head with the other competitors reframe what I believed I was capable of.
The night before Reston, I texted my coach for his help developing a new duathlon race plan. Basically, his plan was to go almost all out for the first 2.3 mile run, bike all out and then to “unleash hell for 10k”. Ugh. Sounds easy enough.
“Sound like a good plan?”, he texted
“Sounds like a painful plan, “ I answered. “Wave 1 scares the shit out of me.”
“Let me think, you finished 36th overall last year, and there are 100 in each wave. Yup. You belong there.”
“I belong there, but I like the anonymity that comes from wave 5.”
“Too bad, you’re fast now. Suck it up, buttercup.”
“Scary. My mind needs to catch up with my feet.”
“You got 13 hours and 38 minutes.”
“I’m on it.”
Race morning was a perfect day. 50 something and sunny. Perfect weather for a run/bike/run. I set up my transition area and then proceeded to stare at it in deep thought for another 10 minutes. I had a plan. My goal was to work the plan and whatever happened would happen.
I couldn’t really put it off any longer, it was 30 minutes before the start and time to warm up. I have never warmed up for a race before, but I knew that my goals required it. I couldn’t just go from standing cold to running a sub 7 mile. I had asked Shannon, Team Fexy’s duathlon expert and national duathlon age group champion, for her warm up advice. If it was good enough for her, it was certainly good enough for me.
When it was race time, I lined up halfway back in the first wave, wished good luck to Ryan and my other friends who were also starting, and then the air horn went off. My plan for this first run was to not get carried away with the mass track start and to run a 6:50 pace. Stick to the game plan. After the first 400 meters, my garmin indicated my pace was a little too fast. Yet, there were a few women running with me and a head of me that I usually beat in runs. “That’s okay,” I told myself. “Stick to the plan.” I let a few of the women go. Within a mile, the paces settled down and I made a few passes and ended up 2nd woman. I knew there was one in front of me, but she looked comfortable and fast. I decided to stick to my plan and not chase her. I remember thinking on this run that 2.3 miles had never felt so long. It was going to be a long race. I got to transition as the 2nd woman, 20 seconds back of 1st. She (Robin, I would learn later), was racked right next to me and was still in transition. I ran out shortly after her. I made up 15 seconds in transition.
I started the bike panting. After making the turn onto South Lakes, I shifted into aero and tried to settle down. I passed Robin about a half mile in.
Holy crap. I’m leading this damn thing. MOVE, Lisa. MOVE.
I was riding scared. Again, I knew that two of the women had ridden minutes faster than me at the Luray sprint just a few weeks before. I never looked behind me, but I was afraid that any second I was going to get passed. At one point, I did hear wheels approaching me and figured the pass was about to happen, but it was Ryan. We exchanged well wishes and he rode off.
The first loop was coming to an end and I had yet to experience the pass I was fearing. I saw Scott on South Lakes Drive and heard him yell to me.
Did he say there was no one in sight? Maybe he said, there are two in sight. Oh man, maybe he said there are five in sight. Lisa, who cares? Just keep your head down and pedal.
Another loop past, I was working hard. My legs were burning, but I still hadn’t seen another woman. I started to fear the run. Did I have enough left after this bike to have a solid run? Again, the demons started to creep into my thoughts. I even started praying for a mechanical on the bike to save me from having to get caught on the run. Scott told me I could push this bike all out and still have enough to finish strong. If he thought I could do that, I could. He hasn’t led me astray yet, I reminded myself.
I got off the bike and moved through transition. I knew I was in first, but I had no idea by how much. I just wanted to get through transition before I saw anyone else. Scott had told me, “the longer you can stay out of sight, the better.” I came around the corner to hit the run course and saw my mom. I knew she was likely flipping out to see me come through first. We had talked before this race. She knew what this meant to me. Mary Kay shouted, “you’re the first woman.” So much for being a come from behind dark horse.
I hit the run and assessed the situation with my legs. I had seen Robin on the first run and knew she would be strong. I figured I would have to sub 7 pace the 10k to hold onto the lead. Keep moving, Lisa. I was tired, but things seemed to be holding up okay. I hit the first short, steep hill and slowed it down, but by the time I got up and over it, I felt okay again. Keep moving. They’re coming.
I pushed the first mile at all the downhill and flat parts. It was such a happy surprise to hear Scott’s voice. He had tried to give me status updates on the bike, but I could never hear him. He was sitting on the run course and his message for me this time was completely unexpected. “There are three women who got off the bike together 4 minutes back.”
Holy shit. I never expected to have a margin like that. Never. I did some quick math in my head. I might not have the fastest run today, but 4 minutes would be a hard lead to completely lose. Still, though, I ran scared. For much of the run I was in no man’s land. The fastest guys were in front of me and it felt like no one was around me. I started to actually have fears that I’d take a wrong turn and get lost in the woods. Finally, I started to see the lead men come by. There were so many FeXYies crushing it and we all acknowledged each other. Seeing Brad made me smile. I had shared with him the day before that I was really scared about going off in wave 1. I knew he was pushing for me. He came around the bend and saw me and he just smiled from ear to ear. Even though I’m known for being poker faced, I couldn’t help smiling myself. I knew this was my race to lose. I approached the turn around and saw Ryan. It was awesome to see him doing well. I saw his face, I knew he was proud. Keep moving.
When I got to the turn around, I looked at my watch to see how much wiggle room I had from the next woman. I was hoping the 4 minutes hadn’t narrowed too significantly. I kept watching, waiting to see someone, but time kept clicking by. Finally, after 2:07 I saw Robin. She told me, “nice job.” She looked strong, but the gap was still at 4+minutes. I heaved a sigh of relief. Now, “don’t blow up,” seemed like an appropriate plan. Again, I pushed the downhills and flats and scaled back when I was feeling labored. I had the time.
The return trip was painful, but fun at the same time. I saw so many teammates who were all out struggling themselves, yet they all cheered for me when they saw me. I remember seeing Kristin and Sara together when I was in a lot of pain. Hearing them cheer for me gave me a push I needed. Just dig a little deeper for just a little while longer. Christina was running out on the course and reached out her hand to slap me five. I was so tired that I missed.
Scott was still sitting in his same spot, he gave me the last jolt I needed to just keep going.
Finally, I saw the lights from the track through the woods. I knew the end was near. I glanced behind me. There was no one in sight. When I looked forward again I saw Ryan a few hundred yards in front of me and yelled for him. He didn’t hear me. I made the final turn onto the track and yelled again. This time, he heard me. There was no one around us, so he stopped and waited for me. The announcer called us in. It was perfect. I had really hoped I would win this race, but to cross the line with Ryan for it was truly amazing.
I still feel like I’m living in a fantasy world. I was talking to my mom about it and I theorized that the reason I have so much trouble getting used to this being “fast” thing is that I have no experience with athletic success ever in my life. A lot of people who are good at triathlon were either successful high school or collegiate athletes. I ran track in high school, but I was marginal at best at a small school (Read: not very good). Running for me has really only been recreational. I never biked and I certainly never swam. Given all that, I really do just have an incredibly difficult time grasping that I’ve found some success in this sport. It’s been a really cool ride. I’m hoping that this race does mark the first time that my head starts to catch up, at least a bit, with my feet.
All in all race times were:
~2.37 mile run: 16:10
~23.7 mile bike: 1:02:42
6.2 mile run: 43:22
1st overall woman; 14 overall athlete